Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing “Interviews for Resistance” series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn’t, what has changed and what is still the same. Today’s interview is the 61st in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with José Lopez, one of the co-organizing directors at Make the Road New York, and Daniel Altschuler, the director of civic engagement and research at Make the Road New York.
Sarah Jaffe: We are talking before an action that you at Make the Road are part of, a national day of action Wednesday, August 2, around the involvement of particular big banks in the private prison and immigrant detention industry. Can you tell us a little bit about the campaign?
José Lopez: We launched a website and a campaign a couple of months ago called Corporate Backers of Hate. The website is www.backersofhate.org. It is an attempt to name and shame a bunch of corporations like JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo for being complicit and supportive of Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. That has taken place in a number of ways. It could come in the form of JPMorgan donating $500,000 to Trump’s inaugural committee. It could come in the form of the CEO Jamie Dimon sitting on the Trump business council. But tomorrow’s action is focused on JPMorgan Chase financing the debt of private prison and immigrant detention centers under the corporations GEO Group and CoreCivic.
What we want to highlight is that this administration and this White House cannot carry out its anti-immigrant policies on its own. The administration will be relying on the work of private companies like JPMorgan Chase who can provide the funding, who can provide the software and who can provide some manpower to really ramp up deportations and the building of a border wall. It is extremely concerning to us. We want to be sure that everyone across the country understands the roles of companies like JPMorgan Chase in advancing bad policy under the current administration.
Tell us about the GEO Group and CoreCivic and JPMorgan’s connections to them.
Lopez: Right now, a ton of the financing for the expansion of GEO Group and CoreCivic is coming from JPMorgan Chase. GEO Group and CoreCivic currently are the country’s largest private prison and immigrant detention companies. What we want to point out is that if the financing and the connection is coming from JPMorgan Chase, and they are connected to the current administration in many ways, we want to be able to draw that connection for people.
It has everything to do with profit. I think the message tomorrow is we want to be sure that companies like JPMorgan Chase are not profiting off of the backs of immigrant families and are not putting profits before a moral obligation to keep families together, to keep mothers with their daughters and their sons and their husbands and their loved ones.
There has been a ton of work over the last couple of months. Some escalations and some arrests have happened a couple of months ago in front of the JPMorgan headquarters. There was a shareholder meeting that took place in Delaware where hundreds of people marched on the shareholder meeting and a couple went in to confront Jamie Dimon. We just want to continue the drumbeat of going after corporations like JPMorgan Chase who stand to profit off of the misery and suffering of our communities.
Tell us a little bit about the research that you have been doing around immigrant detention and private prisons and their connections to the Trump administration.
Daniel Altschuler: Make the Road and the Center for Popular Democracy, with our partners, embarked on this project to look into the companies that were most complicit, particularly financially, in both private prisons and immigrant detention. There is a long body of research and there have been organizations around the country that have been looking into this for some time. With companies like JPMorgan Chase, one of the things we found was that this was one of the companies that is financing the largest private prison and immigrant detention companies like the GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America). The way that that happens is that JPMorgan finances the debt of these companies, so it enables these companies to sustain their operations and to expand.
Private prisons are a relatively small portion of the overall prison system, but they play a really big role in immigrant detention. I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the way that these companies profit off of an increased deportation regime like Trump’s.
Altschuler: Companies like GEO Group and CoreCivic are companies that take government contracts. We just saw an enormous government contract that was given to one of these companies earlier this year and it is very clear that Donald Trump and his administration, the Department of Homeland Security, and ICE below him, as they try to ramp up their dragnet of immigrants in this country, that they are relying on an expansion. They need more beds to do that. They are relying on these private immigrant detention companies in order to do that.
Companies are making money in different ways. First of all, they are getting contracts to run facilities. One of the things that happens congressionally is there is something called a “bed mandate.” Congress has passed a law so that there need to be 34,000 people filling beds in immigrant detention facilities. We know that the Trump administration wants to ramp that up considerably. These companies are getting contracts to help them achieve that goal and then make more money and help them meet their bottom line. What we are saying to JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo is, “You cannot be in the business of financing, or being in any way financially entangled, with these morally odious companies.”
Is the Trump administration ramping up the amount of time people are staying in detention? Are they trying to deport people faster? Is that changing at all under this administration?
Altschuler: We are seeing a focus from the Trump administration in increasing arrests. We have seen an increase in ICE arrests, over 40 percent in the early months of this year. We have also seen an effort from the Trump administration to expedite certain removals. They are trying to do away with due process for large groups of immigrants, to try to ultimately take steps toward a mass deportation regime. That is part of what we are resisting, and we have stood up with allies across the country against what the Trump administration is doing and we are also now saying that we are going to stand up to the corporate co-operators — those companies that are complicit in this — which extends to private prison and immigrant detention companies and also those who are financing them.
Tell us more about the action that is happening Wednesday in different places around the country, and the coalition that is coming together around it.
Lopez: The action is labelled “Taken From Us” and what the action hopes to powerfully demonstrate is really the pain that immigrant communities around the country are feeling as loved ones are taken from them and families are separated. A part of our messaging and symbolism is using hundreds of pairs of empty shoes that we will put on display in front of the JPMorgan headquarters tomorrow at noon. A part of that is to show that JPMorgan is responsible for and causing a lot of the pain in immigrant communities as they continue to finance private immigration detention centers and private prisons and that they are again, remaining complicit in the Trump agenda.
What we expect is at about noon, we are going to have hundreds of community residents from each of our office locations, and from around the city. A lot of allies and supporters will be joining us. They will be marching on site with shoes in hand. Before we start the program in front of the JPMorgan Chase headquarters, the community members who are holding a pair of shoes that represent someone who has been detained, someone who has been deported, will lay the shoes down in front of the headquarters. Once we have all of the shoes, photos of folks that we have lost, messages to those folks that we have lost, we will continue with the program where speakers will share personal stories about how immigrant detention centers and private prisons separated and hurt their families. We are going to be doing that in New York.
We put out a national call to action. We are working with groups like SumOfUs and the Center for Popular Democracy to ask community members across the country to replicate the action. There was a toolkit that was sent out: Grab some people, grab some shoes, go to a JPMorgan Chase Bank and position yourself and your communities to share the same message to hold these corporate backers accountable. That will be the New York action. There will be some more actions happening across the country and, hopefully, after tomorrow, folks will continue to do the work of sharing the story, bringing shoes to JPMorgan Chase Bank sites, and demanding that JPMorgan be a responsible corporate actor, stop financing private prisons, step off Trump’s business council, and really take action to do more to stop Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda.
Talk a little bit about how Trump’s agenda has been affecting the communities that Make the Road organizes in. Tell us about what this is doing and how people are resolved to fight back.
Lopez: There has been a heightened fear in our communities, the concern that the rhetoric is actually coming to fruition. Already under Trump, more than 21,000 immigrants have been detained and potentially separated from their families. There was a memo that came out a week or two ago in New York State that indicated that there was something like over 180 members of the community already detained and deported from New York alone.
A lot of what we have been doing is trying to play defense when it comes to the national landscape and making sure that we are working to support our communities through policy and through advocacy. But also, we are creating defense committees. One of the big things that we have been doing organizationally is making sure that community members are equipped to build safety networks on their local blocks and in their local communities to have immediate forms of communication if it is perceived that ICE is in the area attempting to conduct a raid…. While there has been this heightened sense of fear, immigrant communities at Make the Road and in other organizations are doing a ton of work to really build communities, hold each other down, create these defense committees, but also continuously coming out and sharing their stories. Coming out of the shadows and then launching bold campaigns, like this Backers of Hate campaign, where they are making connections to corporate partners and saying, “No.” Again, this administration cannot do it alone. It is some of these corporate partners who are financing this plan and who are just as responsible for the separation of our families. We can no longer let them slide under the radar. There is a lot of work being done, but there is still a lot more to be done.
How can people get involved in this campaign, in the defense committees, in work to defend immigrant communities wherever they are?
Lopez: I think wherever they are, folks should definitely look for local grassroots organizing groups that are doing strong work either at the local level or at the state level or at the national level. Folks should provide support to those organizations, go meet with those organizations, go talk to those organizations. In New York, we have offices in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and in Long Island. Folks should definitely visit our website: www.maketheroadny.org.
An immediate step for folks who can’t get involved with an organization, maybe they don’t have the time, maybe they are not in close proximity to an organization that they can identify, folks can visit the Backers of Hate website. On the website we profile a number of corporations, not just JPMorgan Chase, and their connections to this administration, their connections to trying to advance an anti-immigrant agenda, and there is a link under every single profile that says “Give them hell.” So what community members can do, what folks listening can do, when you visit the website, you can click on the link that says, “Give them hell” and it will ask you for some basic information like your name and then it will allow you to write a letter that will allow you to reach the top executive at each of the corporations. You can write as little or as much as you would like about your support for the immigrant community. Then, once you click “send” on that letter, the letter will automatically be sent to some of the top executives for each of those corporations. One of the easiest ways to get involved: visit the website and give them hell.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.